It took several people to persuade Anne Sung to run for office. When she finally put her name on the ballot and won, the move into her new role seemed like the logical next step in a natural progression.
The native of Houston and graduate of its public schools had already been a teacher, advocate, and public education strategist. Now, since 2016, she has served as a trustee of the Houston Independent School District (HISD), working to improve not just institutions but lives.
“Every student need is an academic need; if a kid is hungry, if a kid doesn’t have a way to wash their school uniform, if a kid doesn’t have eyeglasses to see the board — these are academic concerns, and we need to address them as educators,” said Sung, who, until recently, also served as chief strategy officer for Project GRAD Houston, a nonprofit that works with lower-income high school and college students.
Sung said her teachers in Houston were sources of inspiration, providing guidance and support at every step in her educational career. John Beam, coach of the Math Club at Bellaire High School, for instance, encouraged Sung to think outside the box about education. His influence on Sung spurred her and Harvard classmate Alex Saltman to develop a math tournament for high school students when she arrived at Harvard.
“When we got to Harvard, we said, ‘Why is there no math tournament?,’ ” Sung said. “So we worked together to start the Harvard-MIT math tournament, which is now one of the premier math competitions” in the nation for high school students.
Back in Texas, Sung began her teaching career as part of Teach for America in the Rio Grande Valley, which sits on the border with Mexico. This placement gave her the opportunity to live and work in rural South Texas, one of the poorest regions in the state, and to be exposed to another side of public education, an experience she calls upon in her career as a policymaker.
Sung, the child of immigrants from Hong Kong, said that a memory from her Teach for America time sticks with her. It involves the deportation of one of her highest-achieving students because the student was undocumented. “She had grown up in the United States, knew the U.S. [as her home], and [then was] sent to what is a foreign country. … Knowing that child and family gives me a different perspective as a policymaker.”
Opportunity, Sung believes, is the key for all students. “When you give any kid rich learning opportunities, they will learn, grow, and reach their full potential.”
Houston is working to create those opportunities for all students, she said, with its community schools initiative. By encouraging schools and communities to work together, the city intends for kids to get the support they need to come to school ready to learn.
“It is meaningful to me to live in a country that has a commitment to public education,” Sung said. “I know I’ve been lucky to receive a quality public education that allowed me to study at Harvard University.”
Sung is working to provide that same opportunity to all children in Houston who may very well follow in her footsteps.